Crime

Charges dropped in Skagit County fire that killed two children

Police tape surrounds a burned-out home after a fire Saturday, July 15 west of Mount Vernon, Wash. A judge has set bail at $2 million each for a man and woman being held in an arson that killed two children at the home.
Police tape surrounds a burned-out home after a fire Saturday, July 15 west of Mount Vernon, Wash. A judge has set bail at $2 million each for a man and woman being held in an arson that killed two children at the home. Skagit Valley Herald

Prosecutors have dropped arson and murder charges against one of two defendants in what authorities describe as a deliberately set fire that killed two children in Skagit County.

Jaramy Chism, 24, has been released from custody. His former co-defendant, Kimberly Hughes, remains held on $2 million bail.

Both were arrested July 15 after an early morning fire at a home in the 13000 block of Bay View Road, where they had just been evicted. The fire killed a 6-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl, and it injured the children’s parents and one other resident.

Investigators have said they believe both Hughes and Chism were involved – and that Hughes, 32, had threatened to burn the house down days earlier. Lawyers for the pair say they deny involvement.

Chism’s attorney, Jon Scott, said Monday he had requested a preliminary hearing because he did not believe prosecutors had enough evidence to continue detaining his client.

Prosecutors dropped the charges rather than go through with the hearing, which had been set for Monday. The charges could be re-filed later.

“He did not do this,” Scott said. “He didn’t start the fire. He didn’t plan with anyone else to start the fire.”

The charges against Chism and Hughes were felonies, but prosecutors filed them in Skagit County District Court, which doesn’t have jurisdiction over felony offenses. Under Washington law, that procedure is allowed as a way to give prosecutors more time to investigate before filing formal charges in Superior Court.

Prosecutor Rosemary Kaholokula told the Skagit Valley Herald she wanted more evidence before filing charges in Superior Court.

"This is not necessarily the end for him," Kaholokula said, noting that charges can be filed again at a later date.

Skagit fire Chism
Arson suspect Jaramy Chism, left, appears in Skagit County Superior Court on Monday, July 17, 2017. Scott Terrell Skagit Valley Herald

Hughes has not requested a preliminary hearing, her attorney, Wes Richards, said Monday. He declined to say whether she would do so. Prosecutors have until Aug. 18 to decide whether to charge her in Superior Court.

The fire began about 2 a.m. on July 15. A tenant, Jacob Motz, told investigators he woke up when he heard fire crackling and saw flames near the front porch.

Homeowner Bryan Bachofer tried to fight the fire while his partner, Jessica Starr, tried to evacuate their children from the second floor, a Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputy wrote in a probable cause statement.

The house quickly became engulfed. Bachofer and Motz ran out the first floor. Starr managed to get the children to a second-floor window, but she fell through when she tried to push a screen open, the deputy wrote. The children did not make it out.

Bachofer told investigators he suspected Hughes and Chism of starting the fire. Chism had worked for him, but he had been fired two weeks earlier. Bachofer had evicted them from the house, he said. On July 8, he told police, Hughes had threatened him, saying: “I will sue you or burn your house down.”

A deputy found Chism and Hughes several hours after the fire in a tent pitched in the backyard of a Sedro-Wooley home, the probable cause statement said, and there was a gas can in the back seat of their car.

They told investigators they had been at the Sedro-Wooley address all night, the statement said.

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